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Marvels: Letters from an Elder, Part 3

Continuing the excerpts from a forthcoming book:

Letter #2 March 27th 1948

Dear Son,

You ask what exactly happens after death. We must begin by making it clear that ‘death’ is, from your perspective, loaded with uninspected assumptions. The culture in which you live has trained you to think of the end of physical life as forbidding, final, hopeless, a void of mystery, an impenetrable unknown which lies at the centre of all human experience though it is continually denied while one lives. This places you in a false position: you are like the rim of a wheel denying its hub or the electron speeding around a nucleus from which it forever turns its face. Yet, in admitting the presence of the hub or the reality of the nucleus, your eyes would be truly opened and you would see the potential of being the whole wheel or the entire atom.

The human body sheds its entire outer layer of skin every month. You, as an individual being, shed your entire body every 70 or 80 years. Both processes are taking place continuously and almost invisibly, in the same way that the sun and moon move overhead almost imperceptibly or the plates of earth upon which your country sits edge inch by inch away from each other. So the condition which you describe as ‘death’ is always happening around you, and might better be described as ‘change’. The difficulty you have with death is that a certain point appears to be reached in mortal existence beyond which the circumstances or conditions to which you have become used are altered so markedly that they do not appear to continue: you lose perception of the personality which ‘dies’, and thus feel irrevocably removed from them. Instead, think rather that you have merely lost sight of them. Like the sun or moon, they have descended below your horizon, but they still remain connected to you — their essential nature, their predispositions, their preferences and regards, all remain constant. If a departed person loved you, they love you still. If they had affection for you, but also quibbles about some aspects of your behaviour, expect their attitudes to remain much the same. The only real difference is that, to continue our earlier analogy, the person now stands outside the house in the beautiful garden, and can begin to recognise that many of his or her house-bound attitudes were incorrect, inappropriate, ill-fitting and quite possibly harmful. Looking in through the windows, many departed souls are alarmed, amused or amazed by what they see their loved ones engaging in, though, having just inhabited the place themselves, they can usually understand and forgive much of what they observe.

If you were to visit a nursery, you might have a parallel experience. Observing groups of young children at play, you see them struggle with simple actions, engage in playful dialogue or tasks, make fundamental mistakes through ignorance, gradually learn to accomplish more and more complex things, fall out with each other, make up with each other, and so on. Thus our existence appears to those looking in through the windows: we grapple with things, converse clumsily with words, educate ourselves (or not), fall into conflicts, resolve conflicts and otherwise proceed to tackle our daily lives based on what we know and can perceive, usually unaware that we are being observed. Those children who experience an intense sadness at being left at the school gate in the morning are foreshadowing the experience of being left behind by loved ones at the point of physical death — but the experience has this deeper parallel: just as the parent collects the child at the end of the day and takes them back to the comforts of their home, so at the end of a life cycle, a person finds themselves greeted and welcomed back into a warm and loving environment where they have the opportunity to reflect upon what they have learned or endured, but, perhaps more importantly, they have the chance to reinvigorate themselves through rest and play.

That is broadly what happens when someone ‘dies’: they are collected, gathered, welcomed, in a variety of circumstances similar to the range of circumstances at the school gate at the end of the school day: some are taken home by carers, or relatives; most by parents; all by loved ones of some kind. All get the opportunity to gain perspective, to remove themselves from the turmoil of the day, to recuperate and reflect; all have the potentials and possibilities of play opened up for them. The degree to which an individual can take advantage of the opportunities presented is variable, just as it is in mortal life; but in common is the sense of the removal of restrictions, the lessening of the physical burden, the lightening of the load. Gone, for the departing soul, are the pressures of daily existence, the pains and aches and demands of the physical body, the remorseless scheduling inherent in Time, the confines of spatial movement, and all the rest of the paraphernalia of mortal ‘school’; present instead are the freedoms of a different kind of time, one which is responsive to the individual rather than demanding. Rather than a heavy physical body, the soul is shrouded with a light, tailor-made form, able to change at will; rather than having to make efforts to move a physical vehicle through space, the soul finds that it can coordinate space around itself, bringing the mountain to Mohammed, as it were. What a mortal might consider to be ‘objective truths’, like matter, energy, space and time, are thus turned on their heads and become subjective playthings; instead of the ‘school timetable’, one has one’s own time in which to do whatever one wishes.

What does one wish to do? What are the new parameters of action for the departed? I will not anticipate your questions too much, but will permit you to reflect upon these matters for a moment before continuing.


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